Have you ever crammed for a test before? While some of us are worse about it than others, essentially everyone has had an experience where they’ve waited until the absolute last minute to complete a school assignment, and rushed to complete it before the deadline. In fact, it’s not just school: I’ve had times where I’ve slacked on piano practice and was forced to practice nonstop in the days leading up to my recital.
You’re probably already cringing and preparing to click away: “Really? Jeremiah wrote an entire article just to tell me to practice?” Well, not exactly. While the old adage “practice makes perfect” holds a lot of weight, it’s not the golden standard. For example, compare practicing an instrument for one hour every day of the week to practicing seven hours at once. Which do you think will be more beneficial?
My point, of course, is that the way you practice matters. More specifically, the more consistent you are, the more you will get out of your debate research and practice. Let’s face it: cramming for a test or hastily wrapping up an assignment at the last minute gets the job done, but it’s hardly ever optimal.
Let me tell you a story. This past competition season, I had a 1AC and Aff Backup prepared in July. I was in a prep group with top teams throughout the late summer and fall, and we were running rounds almost every single day, even having some small tournaments. You’d think that all this practice set me up for success, but it didn’t. Why? You guessed it: consistency.
Once my workload picked up, I became “too busy” for debate. While the research I had done was good, I ultimately lost most of my progress by not staying in the groove. It’s comparable to bodybuilding in the sense that all your amazing progress doesn’t matter, if you’re not able to carry those results through the competition season. Maybe you got into the best shape of your life, but how does that help you if you just go right back to being a couch potato with a bag of potato chips in each hand?
The reverse of this is also true, however. In my opinion, many teams don’t take advantage of the summer and fall, and instead tend to take the “cramming” path: doing all their research immediately before the first tournament. While teams who do this tend to be more consistent, they still sacrifice several months that could put them far ahead of the pack.
Spreading out your prep, drills, and research will keep you used to being “in the groove,” making it that much easier to begin the competition season. Additionally, it will be easier for you to retain information when it’s consumed in bite-sized chunks. Remember the best way to eat a whale? One bite at a time, my friends.
Okay, so I’ve (hopefully) convinced you. But how do you start? Well, consistency is a combination of two things: making goals, and sticking to them.
Making Your Goals
To make your goals, I would start by determining how many hours a week you can commit to drills, research, and practice rounds. You might be the busiest person in the world with 27 extra-curricular activities, but chances are you’ll be able to spare a couple of hours a week. If that’s the case, priority number one is scheduling practice rounds. Organizations like Ziggy Online Debate (#notsponsored) make it very easy to do this, but if you don’t like that you can always schedule rounds with friends or club members.
Next, decide how much time you can carve out for research. Just one hour a week? That’s fine! Those hours add up, and again, you get more out of them than researching 20 hours straight the week before the tournament. Find an amount of time that matches your commitment (if you goal is to win Nationals, one practice round and one hour of research a week might not cut it), and MAKE YOUR PLAN. Trust me: if you don’t have a plan, you will not be consistent with your prep.
Sticking To Your Goals
Even if you don’t enjoy debate research as much as I do, if you want to succeed you will put in the work. Make it a part of your weekly routine, make it a part of your life, and you’ll thank me when you break at Nationals. Every team wants to win, but it’s the teams that actually put in the time and the effort that see success. If you want it bad enough, you’ll have no problem sticking to your goals.
Having trouble finding motivation? It may mean debate isn’t a priority, which is fine. But if you want motivation that you don’t have, it’s often helpful to simply talk to others about the resolution or a specific case. Or even better, watch past finals rounds of Nationals or NITOC. For me, simply watching top tier debaters gives me that push that I need to finish some more briefs.
Consistency is about building habits, with debate or with anything else. If you stick to the requirements you make at the beginning of the year, your slow and steady pace will carry you past your competition.